Photographers Working for Free or Low Pay

Posted: March 1, 2015 in Uncategorized
The idea of new photographers working a job for free or low pay is not uncommon, and many that are new to the business of photography feel in some cases the exposure and the word of mouth could bring them more business in the future. Depending on the situation it may work out well, or may not.
I know pro photographers complain when they see a new photographer trying to get into the business and charging lower rates then all the other established pros.  I guess they shouldn’t be charging the same rates if they are new and inexperienced.
A pro athlete doesn’t start out at the highest pay unless they are an exceptional talent and they play for less money until they start to improve and their pay goes up.
A new wedding photographer shouldn’t be charging the same rates as a well know established photographer charges as the client will not be getting the same quality images.
Many moons ago when I was in the music business and playing in a rock band, it wasn’t all that unusual for young bands to take on gigs working for free or for low pay to get exposure. So for me this idea of photographers working for free or less pay for exposure and experience is much as it was in the music business.
If you read the book by rock legend Sammy Hagar who was best known as the lead singer for Van Halen, Montrose, and his own bands, he talks about when in the band Montrose and their first album was released, they went out on tour as an opening act for major groups in arenas all over the country to help promote sales for the new album. He said they toured for about a year and all they got paid was enough to cover their hotel expenses and a little food money. The idea of all opening acts that are unknown is to get in front of an audience and play for exposure. These bands go out play their set night after night for basically no money, in hopes of gathering a following that will pay off down the road.
So I guess when I hear photographers talk about working for free or low pay for exposure, it’s not just in the photography business that this goes on.
I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just saying it happens and sometimes the exposure pay off and sometimes it doesn’t. Some rock bands went on to become huge from those early gigs they played for the exposure with little to no pay. So again not in support of working for free and not totally against it under the right circumstance.

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  1. Donna says:

    I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to this one. Both sides of the argument have good points.

  2. John Roper says:

    Good point. I guess the other side of the coin would be a fixed scale with no incentive for exceptional performance or talent.

  3. lighthouse75 says:

    Mike, on one hand it makes sense that lesser-known photographers would charge somewhat less than very well-known, established ones. On the other, these days we’re dealing with a culture that’s looking for bargains rather than quality (I’m referring here to services, such as wedding photography, rather than direct sales of products such as prints), so these cheap photographers are undercutting pros who are worth their fees based on their experience in the field. But for free? No. They’re damaging their own reputation by doing this, basically (if unconsciously) sending the message that their work isn’t worth paying for. It’s very hard to undo that damage, once it’s done. If you’re donating your work to a good cause — an environmental cause, say, or promoting pet adoption — that’s a different thing; donating is almost inherent in the process and even well-known photographers do that. Giving a photograph to a friend who’s going to hang it in their office where visitors will admire it and the friend can give your card out is also not a bad idea. But otherwise, I think the received wisdom is that it does more harm than good for aa starting-out photographer to do or give work for free.

  4. Kelvin Taylor says:

    Very good points. I’ve heard via social media and other places how “amateur” photographers are hurting the pro business by not charging market rates for their images or how dare you allow your images to be used without compensation. As a photographer I’ve allow certain organizations(educational, conservation, etc) to use some of my images for non-commerical use. I didn’t get money for payment, but did get a return great than money like as access to places usually off limits to the general public. The broad notion that if you take pictures you should always get money or never provide a free service comes from a selfish mindset IMO. Just as there are two sides to a coin, so be the case here. Thanks for the post Mike, well said.

  5. As my good friend and freelance photographer/educator Todd Bigelow keeps trying to tell young photographers. its about knowing your rights and that you don’t have to “give it all away.” Too many times corporations, who know better, not only try to get photographers to work for low fee or free they also grab all the rights to the images. If you are going to work at a low rate, at least keep your rights so you can make money on resale later.

  6. JackiGail says:

    Thanks once again, well said.

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